Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin

Event: Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin
Date: December 10, 2016, 12:55 pm
Run Time: 2 hours 33 minutes
Ticket Info: Tickets available at the door and online

Tickets for L’Amour de Loinper adult • $22.00 online

Tickets for L’Amour de Loin”per student • $11.00 online

Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin


Act I

Jaufré Rudel, Prince of Blaye, is tired of the life of pleasure led by the young people of his rank. He yearns for a different, distant love, but he is resigned to the idea that he will never find it. A chorus of his old companions reproaches him for the change and makes fun of him. He tells them that the woman of whom he sings doesn’t exist. Then, a Pilgrim who has arrived from overseas asserts that there is such a woman, and that he has met her. Jaufré can no longer think of anything but her.

Act II

Returning to the East, the Pilgrim meets the Countess of Tripoli and admits to her that in the West, a prince-troubadour celebrates her in his songs, calling her his “love from afar.” Offended at first, she later begins to dream of this strange and distant lover, but she also asks herself whether she merits such devotion.


Returning to Blaye, the Pilgrim meets Jaufré and admits to him that the lady now knows that he sings of her. At this, the troubadour resolves to visit her in person.

Clémence, for her part, seems to prefer that their relationship remain distant. She doesn’t want to live in anticipation, and she doesn’t want to suffer.

Act IV

Having embarked across the sea, Jaufré is impatient to find his “love from afar,” but at the same time he dreads their meeting. He regrets having set off on impulse, and his anguish is such that he falls ill and becomes more and more unwell the nearer he gets to Tripoli. He arrives there dying…

Act V

When the ship lands, the Pilgrim goes ahead to warn Clémence that Jaufré is there, but that he is on the point of death and is asking to see her. The troubadour arrives at the Tripolis citadel unconscious, carried on a stretcher. In the presence of the woman of whom he sang, he revives little by little. Thus the two “lovers from afar” meet, and with tragedy approaching they throw caution to the winds. They declare their passion, embrace, and promise to love each other… When Jaufré dies in her arms, Clémence rails against Heaven; then, believing herself to blame for the disaster which has just taken place, decides to enter a convent. In the last scene we see her at prayer, but her words are ambiguous, and we do not know exactly to whom she prays on her knees—her distant God, or her “love from afar.” —Reprinted by kind permission of Chester Music, Limited

Notes by Zeke Hecker

Like Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, which opened this Met Live season, Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin (Love from Afar) is about an intense, idealized love. As in Tristan (and Debussy’s Pelléas et Melisande, to which it has also been compared), the action is almost entirely interior, an exploration of emotional and psychological states. Even less “happens” outwardly in L’Amour de Loin than in those works. The evocative French libretto by Lebanese-born Amin Maalouf derives from a 12th century ballad based on historical fact. The troubador Jaufré Rudel becomes obsessed with the princess Clémence, a “perfect woman” in far-off Tripoli about whom he learns from a pilgrim, who serves as their go-between. Again as in Tristan, the consummation of this improbable love — in this case, when the prince travels to meet his ideal — is death.

Three soloists; choruses whose function is mainly sonorous; a large orchestra enhanced with electronically-generated sounds; atmospheric staging (here by Robert Lepage); five continuous acts lasting two hours: that’s all. The result is probably the most successful opera of the young 21st century (notice the reversed digits!), having already chalked up over thirty productions in Europe and the United States.

This was Saariaho’s first opera (she has since composed three others). Before that, she hadn’t felt comfortable about writing a work dependent primarily on event-laden narrative, as most operas are. Then she saw Olivier Messiaen’s vast, meditative “Saint Francis of Assisi,” and realized (in her words),”If that is opera, then I can write one.”

Saariaho is a woman. This shouldn’t be a Big Deal, except that she is only the second woman composer who has had an opera produced by the Met. The first was Ethel Smyth — in 1903. There has been much discussion of whether L’Amour de Loin is “essentially” feminine, politically feminist, or neither. Saariaho has expressed her disapproval of that line of inquiry. A more fruitful one might concern what the opera tells us about East and West. To Jaufré, one attraction of the distant Clémence is her exoticism, her “Orientalism,” a recurring theme in Western culture of the past millenium. Ironically, there’s nothing Oriental about Clémence except where she happens to live. She was born in Toulouse and spent her childhood there. Thus, a colonialist subtext; Tripoli was under French rule.

Why is this atypical opera so successful? For one thing—the main thing—the music is gorgeous.